Interviewers: Anat Even and Ran Tal
Translated by Tal Haran
We met Jad at his apartment on Netzah Yisrael Street. Jad was already weak, but very glad to see us, welcomed us with a warm smile and spoke ironically about his illness. Talks with Jad have always been a celebration of thought and imagination. One begins at a certain point and takes off on an idea for a new film, an article he wishes to write or a professional, social or political issue worth a struggle. This time things were different, especially because of his pains, which could not be hidden. We touched upon many topics, as always. Time passed and Jad spoke about his rich film, research and public career. The conversation wandered in various directions, hard to stop, for we had not yet had enough and he still had so much to tell. But Jad had to stop and gather strength. We agreed to continue soon. We didn’t make it. Knowledge of his recent passing shocked us.
Jad was an admired friend and mentor, laying out a cinematic path whose foundations were a new sensitivity, humanism, and the aspiration towards a just society and a better world. He is already missed. The text you are about to read is of our last talk with him. We know that his great spirit will continue to move us.
Apparently, your generation saw feature films as their main goal, while documentaries were a livelihood necessity.
Documentary film was on its way. Look, I began with medicine, not film. That is a given.
I graduated from medical school, and then my good friend from the army, Tzepel Yeshurun, said – ‘You were a good administrator in the army, you did all kinds of things, come join the feature I’m about to make, as production manager.’ I said – ‘Yeah, that’s an adventure, let’s do it.’ And that’s how the production of Tzepel’s film began, called Women in the Other Room (1967). I was the gofer as far as production management goes. Not a producer or investor, nothing like that – just making sure everything was in place. It’s a drama of four characters, two men and two women, love of one another, and so forth. Tzepel and I worked together on another film, so I was production manager once again. The name of the film was Elimination of Ignorance (1966) – about women-soldier instructors who spend their army service in new immigrant communities teaching Hebrew. A very moving film.
That’s how you began, Jad. Where did you first notice filmmaking that was somewhat different? Where did you meet it? Where did you see films that interested you?
Sincerely, I was stimulated by Italian neo-realism and the French ‘new wave’. That’s what caught us all at the time. We wanted to do that, but here in this country. I recall that after finishing our documentary film, Tzepel and I went to the Herzliya studios and spoke with Margot Klausner. We came with a script that both of us had written, based on Elimination of Ignorance. About a teacher falling in love with a totally unschooled boy, and the family totally against this, a kind of family melodrama. She was very excited about the idea and the script, and said ‘let’s do this’. I remember it was a winter day, we came out of her apartment near the beach, and ran on the beach like crazy, screaming, yelling our hearts out. And that was it. That was the end of making that film – for a few days later, all the who’s-who in her studio told her, ‘Are you out of your mind? Investing money in two totally unexperienced guys? No way. We won’t let you get involved in this adventure’, and she gave up the idea.
How did you begin your film education?
Yachin Hirsch was a cameraman and friend. Yachin and Sionka were a great couple, living in a house that no longer exists on Hess Street. We saw countless films in that house, which they received for nothing from the Histadrut’s film department. Films that would go to the army, 16-milimeter films to be projected at the end of the world, anywhere possible. This is how I learned film history.
When and how did you make your first documentary film?
I think – not sure – it was film I made about Haim Brenner and his murder. There is a documentary part and a feature part. The murder is described as it was, as it appears in memoirs. There were friends there who knew Brenner, like Nahum Gutman, who spoke about him the way we talk about our friends. It was fascinating. What’s this film called? Mickey Warshawiak held the main role, playing Brenner in the dramatic sections. But there were also documentary parts that really spoke to me. Let’s say this was my first experience at doing something documentary.
What was the name of that film?
Exactly, what was its name?
Where can it be found?
Perhaps Russo has it, at the Jerusalem Cinematheque?
You don’t remember the name?
I’m ashamed to admit I don’t. It’s a film about Brenner’s murder.
We checked with Russo who found it with the help of Eran Levy, director of the Lavon Institute (the name of the film is “Man Is the Center”, produced by the Histadrut. Production year unknown).
So, you already combined documentary and feature film from the very beginning?
Yes, absolutely. The documentary part had interviews with people like Nahum Gutman and Tabenkin who knew him personally. The old Tabenkin, not the Palmach member. His father. The film impressed some people in television, and resulted in two short feature films. The Courtyard of Momo the Great, based on Judith Hendel’s novel, and the second – an adaptation of a story by David Shachar, the title of which I don’t recall at the moment. These are two short dramas I made for the Israel Broadcasting Service. That’s how I got started.
Let’s move to the first film you made that attracted public attention. How was the film The Dress (1969) made?
I was working for Micha Shagrir on the production of his film Ha-Sayarim. At the end of that production, I said to him: ‘We agreed that you would pay me some thousands of liras. I don’t want pay, I want to have a week with a reduced crew and equipment’. He said, no problem. I said, great. We took Liora Rivlin and Assi Dayan, and shot a short film called The Dress, all in the Tel Aviv public library. Where the Tel Aviv Art Museum is located nowadays. Surprisingly this film had quite a response, and people said this was the beginning of a new wave! So we decided we were a ‘new wave’, why not? And then we had to give this new wave a name. I remembered that when I was in England, I had seen an exhibition of German painting called die neue Sachlichkeit – ‘New Objectivism’. So, I said, okay, we’ll be ‘the new sensitivity’. And the rest is history…
What did you mean?
I meant that we were bringing something new into the Israeli filmmaking scene, whether documentary or feature film – affected by the French ‘new wave’, offering different artistic and aesthetic values. Elimination of Ignorance brought on The Dress, after which the Israel Broadcasting Service came to me saying they were doing a series of films about cities, would I feel like it? I said yes. Which city would you choose? I said Akko (Acre).
Because it is insanely interesting and has everything. Antiquities and Jews and Arabs and conflict, and we called it Looking at Akko (1975), and this again was a film that made waves as a documentary.
Let’s take a look at ‘Looking at Akko’. One of the prominent elements there is the mental hospital and the scenes that follow a girl in a state of depression.
Why is it interesting? Because mental illness interested me. At the end of my medical studies, I did my final project working at a Nes Ziona hospital for schizophrenic children. It is so painful, quite indescribable. I accompanied them for some months and wrote a short dissertation about it.
As you worked on the film, did you not intend for it to be a metaphor for something?
No, not a metaphor. No way. It was simply extremely interesting. Later it was interpreted in different ways. I was fascinated. When I met the girl filmed at the hospital, who is a marvelous bi-polar girl with amazing rhetoric gifts, and her encounters inside the hospital with the doctors, the psychiatrists and psychologists – were fascinating. Watching their interaction was like watching two different worlds that do not meet.
She agreed to such exposure in the film?
She agreed, but the Broadcasting Service refused, so when this film was shown, her face was masked.
Do you still like this film?
I love it. It’s one of the films I am most proud to have made.
You’re not the only one. What do you find in this film that continues to be fascinating after so many years?
It’s paradigmatic. I am not sure I can explain. Look, there’s the horrible poverty of Akko’s Arab inhabitants, there’s the matter of boats and going out to sea, and the character who exposes Akko’s history and architecture, and there’s the whole psychiatric issue that fascinated me.
Your next documentary, also interesting and relevant to this day, was about the seamen’s revolt. How was that conceived?
Kobi Niv was going with the daughter of Nimrod Eshel, who led the rebels. Kobi told me we should write a feature script about this story, it’s a great one. We went to Arnon Zuckerman, CEO of the Israel Broadcasting Service, and to Kirschenbaum, offering to make a feature film about the seamen’s revolt. They said they had no money for a feature and suggested making a documentary instead. We went one rebellious seaman after another, and this turned into Ya, brechen (1981). Why that name? It’s an expression, Nimrod Eshel explained – Jabotinsky’s slogan to break the Histadrut. Brechen is Yiddish for ‘breaking’. I immediately said this would be the title of the film – Ya, brechen – for they broke you. Almogi and Ben Gurion broke you.
If ‘Looking at Akko’ was an observation, ‘Ya, brechen’ was a testimony.
And what do you feel about it today?
Very very much like this film.
Because of Nimrod’s character.
Where or when did your political ideology enter your films?
It’s difficult to place on a timeline. I remember being active in a group that Avi Oz organized at Tel Aviv University. We created a framework of solidarity with Palestinians and demonstrated at Ramallah’s Manarah Square. This was in 1980, if I’m not mistaken. The Palestinians stood around and gave us onions for our eyes, against the teargas grenades. This was the moment we connected with the Palestinians. Manarah Square.
A-propos Manarah Square, I spoke with Ari Fulman today and told him we were meeting, and he said: ‘I’ll never forget my student days, you were chair of the film department, and would come back every Sunday all bruised from being beaten up in those protests you attended. This was the best lesson I got in my film studies.’ It’s true. It certainly went along with my film work – Paratroopers (1987), then Fellow Travellers (1983). Everything is mixed up right now. Everything. Someone should really write my biography.
Beyond making films which was very intense at the time, you began to promote research of Israeli cinema at Tel Aviv University. Why, really? Was there no such thing yet?
Renen Shor got me into this, and as early as 1978 I introduced a seminar on ‘burekas films’ [popular films mainly ridiculing Mizrahi populations]. I have its syllabus to this day. I visited the US – I can no longer remember when – but there I met the film world’s old lady, what’s her name? I don’t even remember. Shame on me. We held an evening in her honor now, with Nitzan Ben Shaul who was her Ph.D. student, for she passed away 3-4 years ago (Professor Annette Michalson). I met her in the US and she got me excited about developing the film theory part. Back in Tel Aviv I was already ‘infected’. So I said, we’ll do cinema studies as well. We went over the courses to check what was missing, and for the first time put together a rational program about the history of Israeli cinema. Without Nahman Ingber and Yig’al Burstein, who were freaks of theory and history, this would not have happened. I was the first to receive a grant to study film from the Israel Science Foundation. Some 100,000 dollars, an insane sum at the time, in 1990.
I took Raz Yosef and two assistants and we began to go over Zionist cinema. We analyzed Zionist films. These were propaganda films, but delivered a certain implicit message, and thus I reached the utopian element of Israeli film. It was also the title of my research in 1990, which was never published as a book, but I have three volumes of it, nicely edited.
Let’s get back to ‘new sensitivity’ for a moment. After ‘The Dress' came out in 1969 and was received well, even participated in the Cannes film festival, you realized you were creating films that differed in style from those made in Israel, and you defined this new Israeli wave ‘new sensitivity’. Did you continue this in your next films?
Look, even Fellow Travellers, Paratroopers and Streets of Yesterday belong to this wave of ‘new sensitivity’. Production, content, characters, relationships, aesthetics – everything about them. These films all have the fingerprints of the ‘new sensitivity’.
Pardon me, I believe I’m tired. We’ll have some coffee. Who can make it?
Gladly. We stopped for coffee and a smoke. Jad made the effort and went to bring the volume of poetry he wrote, “Respite of the Camel Herder”, published in 2020. Naturally we ask for a dedication. At the end of our talk, Jad would read us some of the poems.
Look, I made Streets of Yesterday, that takes place in Jerusalem and Berlin and involves both the Holocaust and the Nakbah. I managed to connect the two, a film that made people wish to choke me with it, but they didn’t, and I like this film to this day – Streets of Yesterday. It’s a quote from Rilke. “Es bleibt uns die Strassen von Gestern”. It’s a very famous quote of his. So, I turned it into Rehovot Ha’etmol. Writing is very much a part of my life. I have written poems ever since 1957, and even published a book of poems. I still write them. Soon I’ll have fifty poems and am publishing another book.
You keep quoting in German. Where does this connection to German come from?
I had a friend with German-Jewish roots, and German was spoken at his home, both his parents were doctors, they both spoke German and that’s where I got it. But I never really knew German. Kennedy didn’t either, when he said ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’… He should have said, ‘Ich bin Berliner’. I’m from Berlin. He actually said, I’m a doughnut. It was ludicrous, but no one laughed.
You have been active politically, you made films and began to research cinema. What were the sources of your inspiration?
I can’t really point to anything you might call a ‘spiritual guide’. Perhaps you could roll me another cigarette?
You’ve been working for years on a film about the Yom Kippur War.
I have a script called… I’m really blurry, perhaps it’s from the cigarette… called The Thousand-yard Stare. The post-trauma characters who do not look you in the eye. They look but not in your eyes, they look beyond you. It’s called the thousand-yard stare.
It’s a good script, I wrote it with Amit Lior, Dan Ronen and Moran Ovadiya. They are all signatories of this script. I come last. It’s a film dealing with war in one of the Sinai outposts. As it happens, we have a partner in France, called Yanih, and we have the local KAN 11 network who wish to invest in it, and we have the Israeli Film Foundation.
Do you believe you can make it?
Sure, if I live until then. We’ll have to reconstruct a lot, but some of it can be reconstructed at the Armored Corps memorial site in Latrun. We’ve already been there, visited with Marec Rosenbaum, saw it and spoke with the directors of the place, they would be delighted.
Where were you in the Yom Kippur War?
I’ll begin with the Six Day War, when I was a combat physician of reserves paratrooper battalion 65, in the Sinai. I was awarded the ‘bravery citation’ for saving the lives of wounded men. In 1973 I was the physician of the same unit in the Golan Heights, took part in the occupation of Mount Hermon’s Syrian side, I no longer remember exactly, it’s all mixed up. I was a combat surgeon. Combat physician, head of a battalion aid station.
Do you think you suffered PTSD in some way?
Why the past tense? This condition is for keeps.
How is it manifested?
Outbursts, rages, things I don’t wish to recall. At least not now. I’m on cannabis. There, it lies over there, I’ll bring it. Take a few puffs. You see, I have a hard time even getting up. So weak. I’m going to publish another book.
No. It’s called “Auschwitz, Capital of the 20th Century”, and Miri Talmon will help me edit it. It’s all there already, the complete manuscript, 300 pages. It’ll be my magnum opus, at least as far as I’m concerned.
But I want to show you the roof garden. Talma, my life partner, is a gardening freak, although she runs the neuroscience lab of Tel Aviv University at Ichilov Hospital. She is a gardening freak and cannot help it, she has made a wonderful garden on our roof. We’ll go up there soon. It’s only one story up to the roof.
We’ll do it. I climb, my right hand helps. It’s the hand that still works. My left hand can only hold things. The roof garden is extra, we have a garden in Bat Shlomo, with about fifty fruit trees. Citrus trees, deciduous trees, you name it. They all give fruit. Our loquats were in season recently, unfortunately most of the fruit stayed on the tree, we didn’t manage to pick it.
Would you like us to stop now, and set another date?
Yes, I’m tired. We’ll meet again because I wasn’t quite precise on many issues.
Perhaps you could read us one of your poems, to finish up?
Read you one? Yes. Sure I can. But you hold it. Okay. This is a poem from 1959, the first poem in my book.
The Mediterranean Fever is killing me
I’m dying to get well but the Mediterranean Fever
Is killing me.
I walk around all day, knives in my belly.
In the evening I sail to Spain
Eat fish with a waiter with a white bow tie,
Go down to Valencia or Alicante
Have something warm to drink.
The waiter squeezes two bulls and I drink blood,
Go down to Granada
To taste something of the Guerra Civil.
I park at executions.
That’s where I park.
That’s where I recover.
When Lorca is executed
I know half of August is over
I go to the mountains, to the Sierra Nevada.
It’s nice to read Lorca in the hills.
I pass the lost Spanish coast
Dreaming of the armada.
Knives in my belly.
The waiter squeezes me an orange and laughs:
Senor, drinking blood isn’t good for you.
I yell with all the might that is drained out of me.
Half of August is over,
He will soon be executed.
Would you read us another poem?
This is the poem called the same as the book.
Respite of the Camel Herder
How a storm took the desert
Dust covered the rest of the day
Had I been possessed, it would be a tumbler
I faced south, a young camel drags its legs
A she-camel bends towards its trough
Along the oases at noon
The shepherd will lie with his flock.
As the day darkens at the end of the storm
I turned to the camel herder
Hung myself on the neck of his camels
Drank of the water hole, filled my belly with sand,
Watered my camels alive.
What is the saddle, who is my saddle
My hand strokes the young she-camel
How you fell asleep, you light flocked herder
Keep quiet, do not wake those camel nights.
And we cannot take leave without hearing your poem “My Father”.
Oh, no, it’s a painful poem.
My father has no roots in my heart
He is tormented
I sit, a Muezzin
A dried orchard
Sleepy earth, but roots.
As people say
A tree and a falling apple.
As a start
Loving is not too bad.
Let me think,
My father’s tanned face
Wrinkles around his eyes,
My flesh cries out on my grimacing face.
(Mazkeret Batya, 1995)
So, this was something.
We did it.
And we will go on doing something. I want to feel better, be at my best, things will come out more easily.
We didn’t see the charming roof garden, Jad got tired and had to rest. We only came there during the days of mourning, sat among the plants and enjoyed the air.